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Lake Cascade water conditions improving, multi-agency open house this week

A blue Cascade Lake with a sandy beach and a wooden fence.
Lake Cascade State Park

June’s algae bloom in Lake Cascade was alarmingly green but didn’t require a toxic algae alert, Idaho’s Department of Environmental Quality said.

The volunteer group Friends of Lake Cascade says water conditions are improving. Lenard Long co-founded the group, which has tracked water quality since 2018.

"When we were in full bloom, the water clarity in the bloom area had a depth of about two feet, now it’s anywhere from about 7.5 to 10-11 feet,” Long said.

This Wednesday, the Friends will join multiple state and local agencies at an open house aimed at improving public understanding of the reservoir’s ecosystem.

"I look at a handful of different items before I go into the water," said Long, who is swimming in the lake again.

He uses DEQ and satellite data, public health alerts and general observation before deciding whether it's a good day or location for water recreation.

"I look for areas that are relatively clear. Cyanobacteria [toxic algae] are in the lake year-round, but they don't bloom year-round."

Toxic blooms can sicken people and pets and can appear as foam, paint or scum on the water's surface. They can be multiple colors.

The Environmental Protection Agency monitors the lake by satellite. Its latest data show no detectable levels of toxic algae, another positive indicator. Scientists with Idaho's Department of Environmental Quality said conditions can change quickly, but they aren't sure exactly what triggers the growth of toxic algae.

Long said he hopes the increased attention on the reservoir will translate into more effort to reduce levels of algae-inducing phosphorus.

"You can’t blame one particular industry. Everybody needs to get involved if we’re going to come up with a solution for the problem that we have," he said.

Water temperature also plays a role in the growth of algae. Surface temperatures are about ten degrees cooler in Lake Cascade now compared to a year ago, according to data shared by the Friends of Lake Cascade.

Representatives from multiple land management agencies, state and local health departments and DEQ will be available to answer questions from the public during an open house Wednesday, noon to 6:45 at the American Legion Hall in Cascade.

Troy Oppie is a reporter and local host of 'All Things Considered' for Boise State Public Radio News.

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